Discovering an odd lump, bump, spot or rash anywhere on your body can be unnerving, and if it’s anywhere near your vagina it can be even more so. But it’s important not to let embarrassment prevent you from seeking treatment.
We speak to Ms Tania Adib, consultant gynaecologist at The Medical Chambers Kensington, about the most common causes of vulval and vaginal lumps and bumps:
What does a vulval lump mean?
Vulva is the general name given to the external parts of the female genitals. In most cases, the occasional vulval lump is likely to be perfectly harmless, but for your peace of mind it’s always best to seek medical advice.
‘If you notice a lump or bump in your vulva, go to see your GP as a first port of call, or if you have a gynaecologist arrange to see them,’ advises Adib. ‘Whether it’s serious or not really depends on what it feels or looks like.’ Therefore, a medical opinion is vital.
Check your vulva!
It’s important to know what’s normal for you as every vulva is unique, so get to know your own body. As with your breasts, check your vulva regularly, so that you can tell if something changes.
‘Women should become familiar with checking their vulva for any unusual lumps or bumps,’ says Miss Adib. ‘The best way to check is with a mirror, once or twice a year.’
To put your mind at rest, Adib looks at the most common causes, symptoms and treatment options for vulval and vaginal lumps:
The Bartholin glands are on both sides of the opening of the vulva and they provide lubrication. The ducts of the gland are quite long and can easily get blocked. When the glands get blocked, they continue to produce secretions, but then they get more blocked and form a cyst.
• Bartholin's cysts symptoms
The cyst can reach the size of a golf ball and be quite painful.
• Bartholin's cysts treatment
If the cyst is small, no treatment may be necessary, especially if you don’t have any symptoms. However, if the cyst has become large and/or painful, it may need treating. A gynaecologist can drain the cyst, which is a minor surgical procedure.
These are caused by the sebaceous glands (oil glands) and they look like little white/yellow bumps.
• Fordyce spots symptoms
Fordyce spots don’t usually cause pain and aren’t harmful.
• Fordyce spots treatment
There’s no treatment really necessary for these. Normal practice is simply to leave them.
These are swollen veins – like varicose veins. They can often be found during pregnancy, as the weight of the uterus during pregnancy reduces blood flow, so the veins dilate. They can also occur in women who stand for long periods of time.
• Varicosities symptoms
These include visible twisted, swollen veins in the vulva, pain and tenderness, and a feeling of fullness or pressure in your vulva.
• Varicosities treatment
They do normally just go away, so we don’t tend to do anything in terms of treatment. For some women, if they don’t go away, they can actually cause a great deal of discomfort. In these instances, you would be referred to a vascular surgeon for surgery.
Vaginal skin tags
These are very common little bumps of skin. The small, benign growths normally occur in places where your skin folds, so your vulva is a prime spot.
• Vaginal skin tags symptoms
There are no symptoms and the skin tags are harmless, although they can be annoying – especially as they can sometimes be confused with genital warts in appearance.
• Vaginal skin tags treatment
You can have these taken off if you find them catching on your skin, or if you just want to have them removed.
An ingrown hair is a hair that, instead of growing out of the skin, turns and grows back down into the skin. Shaving, waxing and plucking hairs can all cause them to become ingrown.
• Ingrown hairs symptoms
Ingrown hairs can cause small bumps in the skin, which can be painful to touch.
• Ingrown hairs treatment
Exfoliating the area where you have an ingrown hair can help to encourage the hair to grow back towards the surface, and a warm, salt water compress can help to alleviate any discomfort if the hair has become infected.
Genital warts look like little cauliflower-shaped bumps. They are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), types 6 and 11. It’s important to know that these warts do not cause cancer, but they are contagious and can be passed through skin-to-skin , via sex and by sharing sex toys.
• Genital warts symptoms
As well as the cauliflower-shaped bumps, you may also notice itching, discomfort and bleeding.
• Genital warts treatment
Genital warts are treated either with a cream or liquid nitrogen, and sometimes by laser treatment or surgery. It’s important to visit your GP, gynaecologist or sexual health clinic if you think you may have genital warts, for treatment.
While the genital warts can be treated, the HPV virus can remain in your body, meaning you could have another outbreak at some point.
Vulval cancer is very rare and the causes are not entirely clear. However, your risk of developing vulval cancer increases with age, and you are at greater risk of developing it if you are a smoker or if you have had repeated infections with certain types of HPV.
• Vulval cancer symptoms
Vulval cancer often presents itself as a hard lump or an ulcer, and it can cause pain and itching. Other symptoms can include bleeding and a burning sensation when passing urine.
• Vulval cancer treatment
If you are at all concerned, see your GP first. Patients with suspected vulval cancer are normally referred very quickly and a gynaecologist will take a biopsy. Once diagnosed, surgery and radiotherapy will follow.
Further help and support
If you are concerned about anything related to vaginal lumps and bumps or you think you might have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) it's important that you speak to a medical professional. For information on where to go, try one of the following:
- Ask your GP for advice.
- Find a sexual health clinic near you.
- Try Brook's Find a Service tool.
- Find contraceptive services near you.
- Call the national sexual health line 0300 123 7123.
- Call Worth Talking About on 0300 123 2930 (for under-18s).
Last updated: 10-10-19